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A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM

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Last Friday, the 27th of November, Tennessee Williams’ formidable play A Streetcar Named Desire opened at BAM’s Harvey Theatre to a sold-out audience. The staff at New Directions were lucky enough to attend the dress rehersal that afternoon, which, due to prevailing illness amongst the cast, was the first time the actors had done a full run-through of the play.

Under the direction of Liv Ullmann, the production was a tour de force from start to finish. The two-story set design opened the cramped Kowalski apartment onto the audience, with the upper story left stark and minimal—a gray, outer wall of the upstairs apartment featuring just a single window. The levels were joined by the fire escape, and there also featured two doors onstage— both within the Kowalski kitchen—effectively used throughout the play to convey emotion (with characters like Stanley stomping through and slamming them), as well as forming literal and liminal thresholds between the prison-like interior of the apartment and the outer world of New Orleans. In the blank space beyond these doors, this outer world was perfectly evoked through the use of sound effects and lighting.

Within these spaces, the actors played their parts with staggering virtuosity. Joel Edgerton ensnared the audience with his Brando-inspired portrayl of Stanley Kowalski, a man unafraid to mark what little territory in the world is his with aggressiveness. From the outset, his Stanley was commanding and comedically ignorant, forceful and violent, a man who feels he has to shout in order to be heard. Uncouth in his relationships both with women and with men, Edgerton gave Stanley his due dose of machismo, aptly defining the role in relation to his female counterparts— his passion-fuelled marriage to Stella, and his relentless bullying of Blanche. Indeed, Robin McLeavy gave a brilliant perfromance as Stella, a woman who is young and benign in the face of her husband’s truculence. She portrayed Stella’s gentle and unassuming nature with poise, and infused the role with emotion, particularly in the final scene, her tearful breakdown over Blanche further highlighting Stanley’s sadistic nature.

But it was Cate Blanchett, as aging Southern Belle Blanche DuBois, who stole the show. From the opening, Blanchett captured Blanche’s nervousness and charm, and injected as much humour as she did tragedy into the character, particularly in relation to Blanche’s obsession with her fading looks and her fondness for alcohol and young men. She played the part with creativity and precsion, seemlessly bringing to life one of Williams’ most fatal heroines, a woman tormented both by her ruinous past and by the brutish figure of Stanley. Indeed, it was in her scenes with the male leads (Stanley and suitor Mitch (played by Tim Richards)) that Blanchett deftly cut to the core of Blanche’s character; a displaced woman on the edge, who is desperate for security and admiration, yet is ultimately abused and abandoned by the men in her life. The drunken rape scene that culminates in Blanche’s inevitable demise was  harrowing, the climax of the scene drowned out by the sound of the passing streetcar, a flickering of lights and an eventual blackout.

––posted by Katie Raissian

Written by New Directions

November 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

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